NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne can't wait to test himself in a game.
The Predators, who announced Wednesday that they are sending Rinne to their AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, are cautiously waiting to see if the two-time Vezina Trophy finalist can help them chase down a playoff berth.
Both Rinne and the team will have a better idea of where he is after the conditioning assignment for games Friday and likely Sunday in this latest step in his recovery from an E. coli infection in his surgically repaired left hip. Rinne has been limited to only nine games this season.
Coach Barry Trotz said the Predators will be monitoring Rinne after each practice and game.
"He's at a point where we've got to find out where he is game-wise and also body and mind," Trotz said of Rinne.
The Predators start a five-game home stand Thursday night hosting Tampa Bay just four points back of the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot with 23 games remaining. They missed the playoffs last year for only the second time in nine seasons.
How quickly Rinne rejoins them depends on how he fares in Milwaukee.
Rinne practiced with the Predators on Wednesday before traveling to Milwaukee, and he called this a big day with doctors giving him the green light for the latest step in his long recovery. He has been sidelined since Oct. 24 for an infection in the hip surgically repaired May 9, and Rinne said he's focusing on getting his game back and help the Predators.
"So far I feel really comfortable," Rinne said. "I'm happy how things have gone in practice and how things have gone so far. I think I'm actually a little bit surprised it's been going so well. But like I said, it's still a process but for sure I feel like I'm really close to game shape and now it's just a final couple of games before I jump on the ice with the Nashville team."